Chloe Wang’s fortunes in Hollywood improved dramatically when she decided to change her surname.
She says within days of adopting her father’s given name — Bennet — as a family name, she landed her first big acting gig.
That was on the TV series Nashville, in a recurring role as record company assistant Hailey.
“I was having trouble booking things with my last name. I think it was hard for people to cast me as an ethnic, as an Asian American woman,” says Bennet in an interview with the Star. “But I still wanted to keep my dad’s name, and I wanted to respect him, so I used his first name.”
The Chicago-born Bennet became one of the breakout stars of the current TV season, playing computer hacker Skye on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the number one new series on Canadian television. Her role is also central to the first season, as the show has unveiled more of her origins each week leading up to a May 13 finale.
But her experience as an actress of colour — her father is ethnically Chinese and her mother is Caucasian — isn’t new. Actors and actresses have been changing their names since the dawn of the industry. After all, it’s arguable whether Bernard Schwartz would have made it in the movie business if he hadn’t changed his name to Tony Curtis. Closer to home, British Columbia-raised actress Meg Tilley (Bomb Girls) changed her name from Chan because of fears of racism growing up.
Still, things are shifting in the industry: two prime time series have women of colour in their leads — Kerry Washington in Scandal and Lucy Liu in Elementary.
In the Marvel production, Bennet shares air time with Ming-Na Wen (ER) who plays a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and the show is co-produced by Maurissa Tancharoen, who is of Thai ethnicity.
“It’s been great to be a part of a show which is groundbreaking in terms of being an American woman and being Asian on television because there’s people who don’t see a lot of that and I’m really proud of it,” says Bennet.
Marvel has had something of a reboot in the second half of the season after it didn’t live up to critical expectations. But it has remained popular, and among the top five most watched shows in Canada. The retooling meant the series is a little tougher-minded, and less obviously a production from ABC’s corporate parent Disney.
As the show heads into the finale, S.H.I.E.L. D is in disarray and arch enemy HYDRA has been resurrected.
Skye’s character and origins are also central to the theme of the show, as she is on a journey to discover who her parents really are. Born in a Chinese village in Hunan province, the entire village was killed defending her when she was an infant. She was subsequently sent to a series of orphanages and foster homes. Another key thematic thread in the show is finding out whether she may possess a super power. She is also the central love interest, playing off against agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) in a game of deception.
“The show is getting a little bit darker, it’s a little edgier and you’ll see that as we progress it will be crazy,” says Bennet. “Skye finds out a lot about her family coming up, or lack thereof. She doesn’t know where she’s from or if she’s human, or alien, if she has powers. She has no idea, so we’ll be seeing a lot of her finding that out.”
Growing up in Chicago, Bennet joined the Second City youth ensemble at age 12, studying improv.
Several years later she was signed by a music management company and moved to China, where she lived with her grandmother.
She lived in Shanghai for almost two years and released a debut single “Uh Oh” in Mandarin and in English.
“I studied Mandarin everyday. I really never spoke it before I went over there and I kind of became relatively fluent and I’ve actually lost pretty much all of it since then,” she says. “But it was an incredible experience.”
Her fan base has exploded exponentially from her music days.
“When we do go out, and we run into fans, it’s really great. I’m just as excited to see them and it’s really been a pretty incredible, fantastic ride into this Marvel universe.”
I just caught up with agents of shield.. woah